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Facts About Plastics

All information sourced from Pacia.org and EPA
SPI Code Identification Table
SPI Resin Identification Code PETE HDPE PVC / Vinyl LDPE PP PS OTHER
Type of resin PET Polyethylene Terephthalate HDPE High-density Polyethylene PVC Unplasticised Polyvinyl Chloride PVC-U Plasticised Polyvinyl Chloride PVC-P LDPE Low-density Polyethylene PP Polypropylene PS Polystyrene Other Mixed Plastics
Properties Clear, tough, solvent resistant, barrier to gas and moisture, softens at 70°C Hard to semi-flexible, resistant to chemicals and moisture, waxy surface, opaque, softens at 135°C, easily coloured, processed and formed Strong, tough, can be clear, can be solvent welded, softens at 75°C Flexible, clear, elastic, can be solvent welded Soft, flexible, waxy surface, translucent, softens at 80°C, scratches easily Hard but still flexible, waxy surface, softens at 145°C, translucent, withstands solvents, versatile Clear, glassy, rigid, brittle, opaque, semi-tough, softens at 95°C. Affected by fats and solvents Includes all other resins, multi materials (e.g. laminates) and degradable plastics. Properties dependent on plastic or combination of plastics
Common Uses Soft drink and water bottles , salad domes, biscuit trays, salad dressing and peanut butter containers, fleece clothing and geo-textiles Crinkly shopping bags, freezer bags, milk bottles , ice cream containers, juice bottles, shampoo, chemical and detergent bottles, buckets, rigid agricultural pipe, milk crates Cosmetic containers , electrical conduit, plumbing pipes and fittings, blister packs, wall cladding, roof sheeting, bottles Garden hose, shoe soles, cable sheathing, blood bags and tubing, watch straps, commercial cling wrap Cling wrap , rubbish bags, squeeze bottles, black irrigation tube, black mulch film, rubbish bins, shrink wrap Dip pottles and ice cream tubs, potato chip bags, straws, microwave dishes, kettles, garden furniture, lunch boxes, blue packing tape, automotive parts CD cases, plastic cutlery, imitation ‘crystal glassware’, low cost brittle toys, video cases, water station cup, safety helmets Packaging, car parts, appliance parts, computers , electronics, water cooler bottles, medical devices
The word Plastics originates from the Greek word "plastikos", which means easily moulded.
How Plastics Are Made.

Plastics can be divided in to two major categories: thermosets and thermoplastics. A thermoset solidifies or “sets” irreversibly when heated. They are useful for their durability and strength, and are therefore used primarily in automobiles and construction applications. Other uses are adhesives, inks, and coatings. A thermoplastic softens when exposed to heat and returns to original condition at room temperature. Thermoplastics can easily be shaped and molded into products such as milk jugs, floor coverings, credit cards, and carpet fibers.

Plastics are made by linking together the atoms of elements such as crude oil, gas and coal, and forming long chains of molecules called polymers.The polymers are formed into products by different processing methods. The most common methods involve heating the plastic until soft, shaping in a mould, and cooling until the plastic is solid and set in its new shape. Plastics come in all shapes and sizes and are used to make may everyday items you probably take for granted; like bank notes and credit cards, computer parts, drink bottles and coolers car parts and interiors, pipes for buildings, food packaging, toys, medical and surgical equipment. Plastics are one of the most resource efficient and versatile materials available to society. Plastics make a significant contribution to the goals of sustainable development:

Plastics Recycling

According to the American Chemistry Council, about 1,800 US businesses handle or reclaim post-consumer plastics. Plastics from MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) are usually collected from curbside recycling bins or drop-off sites. Then, they go to a material recovery facility, where the materials are sorted into broad categories (plastics, paper, glass, etc.). The resulting mixed plastics are sorted by plastic type, baled, and sent to a reclaiming facility.

At the facility, any trash or dirt is sorted out, then the plastic is washed and ground into small flakes. A flotation tank then further separates contaminants, based on their different densities. Flakes are then dried, melted, filtered, and formed into pellets. The pellets are shipped to product manufacturing plants, where they are made into new plastic products. Resin Identification Code

The resin identification coding system for plastic, represented by the numbers on the bottom of plastic containers, was introduced by SPI, the plastics industry trade association, in 1988. Municipal recycling programs traditionally target packaging containers, and the SPI coding system offered a way to identify the resin content of bottles and containers commonly found in the residential waste stream.

Plastic household containers are usually marked with a number that indicates the type of plastic. Consumers can then use this information to determine whether or not certain plastic types are collected for recycling in their area. Contrary to common belief, just because a plastic product has the resin number in a triangle, which looks very similar to the recycling symbol, it does not mean it is collected for recycling.

Plastics Recycling cont...Plastics consume just 4% of the world's oil as feedstock

Plastics are too valuable to waste - this includes end-of-life. After serving a useful purpose, plastics can either be recycled or used as an alternative fuel. Plastic waste has a calorific value at least equal to coal and with lower CO2 emissions.

Plastics Saved the Elephant. The elephant was once in danger of extinction because its tusks supplied ivory for billiard balls, piano keys,umbrella and many other products. The arrival of acrylic and other plastics provided substitutes and helped save the Elephant.

The plastic bag has become an important symbol for consumers to take action and try to deal with the sometimes overwhelming concerns about the environment. It is important that people wanting to make a change for the better have the best information and choices available to them. It is important that information and choice are based on the best available science and data.

It is a fact that plastic shopping bags are a safe, cost-effective and hygienic method for people to move grocery and other items from shops to their homes. In addition to this, most bags are re-used for a range of applications, from kitchen tidies, storage and picking after the family dog. 98% of bags in Australia are dealt with responsibly when people are finished using them.

It is also a fact that a small proportion of these bags create problems in our environment as litter, around 1-2%. Business, governments, communities and most importantly individuals, all need to take responsibility for all types of litter. Plastic bags should not become litter, but when they do, they should be dealt with as part of the overall litter stream.

As a result of industry working with governments and communities, consumers now have access to a wider range of bags to continue moving groceries and other products from shops including:

  • Traditional HDPE
  • Degradable plastics
  • Durable Polypropylene re-usable fabric bags (the ‘green’ bags)
  • Cotton, jute or Hessian bags
  • Paper bags and cardboard boxes

A number of Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) have been conducted both in Australia and overseas which report on the comparative environmental impacts of various materials and bags. The simple, effective "1 to 7" numbering system identifies the resin composition of plastic containers (and other items intended for recycling). This voluntary coding system has been a key element in the successful collection, recovery and management of used plastics in Australia. The coding system was launched in 1988 by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in the United States and was introduced to Australia in 1990.

The building and construction sector is the second largest consumer of plastics (after packaging) in Australia. The use of plastics in this area will continue to grow due to the design flexibility, light weighting, durability and other environmental gains plastics offer, such as reductions in energy and water usage throughout the life of the home. Plastics continue to replace traditional materials in many types of applications, such as siding, decking, decorative trim, bathroom fixtures and skylights.

Whilst plastics offer many benefits to society, the industry understands the need to minimise environmental impacts of its products. To this end, PACIA has partnered with Sustainability Victoria to target the reduction of durable plastics waste to landfill through resource efficiency in manufacturing and recovery at end-of-life.

Recycling plastic saves twice as much energy than burning it in an incinerator. 25 recycled PET bottles can be used to make an adult's fleece jacket!